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Fairlawn and Summit County Fight to Save Broadband Service from Senate Budget Amendment

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The city of Fairlawn touts its successful FairlawnGig municipal broadband utility on its welcome signs. Mayor William Roth says the service has attracted businesses and residents and increased home values.

Summit County leaders say a last-minute amendment inserted into the Senate version of the state budget threatens to handcuff their effort to improve broadband internet service.

The county has been working on leveraging the municipal broadband utility developed by the city of Fairlawn. It has lured businesses with its super-fast FairlawnGig, launched five years ago to address a need Mayor William Roth says kept coming up in economic development efforts.

"The Achilles heel always is the internet, 'cuz Ohio's internet in 2014 was ranked 48th out of 50 states as far as average internet speed," Roth said. He says they tried to work with private companies on an upgrade. "We were met with flat out just silence, refusals and one executive actually laughed in my face and said ‘good luck,'" Roth recalled.

Fairlawn forged ahead and Roth says at least five businesses have moved to the city because of the service. Hudson is working to offer something similar and county executive Ilene Shapiro has been pursuing it county-wide.

"From public safety, from education from economic development. It just makes good sense," Shapiro said.

But the Senate amendment, submitted anonymously, includes restrictions on using federal dollars—which the county planned to do—to pay for broadband and it limits areas a municipal network could serve to "unserved areas."

Fairlawn Mayor William Roth says unserved areas are defined as having access to arcane upload and download speeds.

Mayor of Fairlawn says legislative amendment would hurt Ohio's progress
William Roth says the city has no intention of giving up its successful municipal broadband service, FairlawnGig
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“If you look at that, that's going back to the 1990s to the old AOL dial-up days. So what they were doing is saying in one way, yes, municipal broadband can exist, but you can only serve areas that basically there's less than 1.7% of the areas of the state of Ohio that would meet that definition.”

Roth says the provisions are an overreach and will be subject to legal challenges if approved in the final state budget.

Summit County has been working with Fairlawn to develop a county-wide fiber network. County Council passed a resolution Monday opposing the Senate amendment.

A Northeast Ohio native, Sarah Taylor graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she worked at her first NPR station, WMUB. She began her professional career at WCKY-AM in Cincinnati and spent two decades in television news, the bulk of them at WKBN in Youngstown (as Sarah Eisler). For the past three years, Sarah has taught a variety of courses in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, where she is also pursuing a Master’s degree. Sarah and her husband Scott, have two children. They live in Tallmadge.